BY PAUL LAGAN
Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea to crush relegation-haunted WBA 3-0 with a brace at Stamford Bridge tonight as the Blues move back into fourth place in the Premier League.
The other goal came from the venomous left boot of wing-back Victor Moses.
But any suggestion that the champions have recovered their form that saw just two wins from then previous 10 must take into account the quality of the opposition.
Chelsea leapfrog Spurs back into Champions League contention and Antonio Conte will sleep a bit better.
Support from the strands for under-fire Antonio Conte reverberated from all four stands within seconds of the start as they attempted to put a smile on the Italian’s face.
Conte responded by clapping in appreciation.
Ex-Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge lasted two and a half minutes – a possible hamstring problem curtailing the on-loan Liverpool striker. He was replaced by Jay Rodriguez.
The visitors started the more committed and Salomon Rondon was unlucky on five minutes when he blasted a powerful header over Thibaut Courtois, crossbar.
Quite how Rodriguez missed his chance on 12 minutes is anyone’s guess.
Moses produced a daft cross field header which the substitute raced on to. Instead of racing onto goal, he attempted a long-range effort which trickled past Courtois’s right post.
davide Zappacosta should have put the Blues ahead on 17 minutes when Cesar Azpilicueta’s defeat cross was met at the far post by the Italian. But Ben Foster was quick to react and smothered the close-range effort. Foster was in the right place to kick away Olivier Giroud’s scuffed effort two minutes later as the Blues started to get a grip on the game.
The home side broke the deadlock on 15 minutes and it was Eden Hazard, ably supported by a deft flick by Giroud, who cut through the WBA defence before planting the perfect right-footer wide of Foster and into the back of the net.
It was the Belgium’s 14th goal for the Blues in all competition this season.
There were no changes by either side at half-time.
Rondon outmuscled Christensen on 56 minutes and but for Courtois deflecting the goal-bound effort, the visitors would have scored an undeserved equaliser.
Giroud’s game ended on 61 minutes – he headed down the tunnel suggesting an injury curtailed his home debut. he was replaced by Alvaro Morata.
Within two minutes Moses took advantage of a lucky deflection off Craig Dawson and slotted home a low left-footer to double the score for then home side.
Foster thwarted Moses on 69 minutes, hacking away within his left foot, a daisy-cutter from the wing-back.
The game was over 20 minutes before the end when, hazard received the ball from Morata on the edge of the WBA penalty area. He cut in on the left and smashed home a fierce left-footer that left Foster stranded.
Conte took the luxury decision of replacing Christensen for skipper Gary Cahill a minute later.
Chelsea face Hull City on Friday, at the Bridge in the FA Cup.
Conte’s final substitution as a run out for Willian, Pedro took an early shower.
The Blues were in cruise control at this point and saw them game out effectively.
Next up are two more vital games that will decide Conte’s fate. Hull on Friday, then it’s the visit of Barcelona on Monday in the Champions League
Teams: Chelsea,Courtois, Rudiger, Fabregas, Kante, Hazard, Pedro, Moses, Giroud, Zappacosta, Christensen, Azpilicueta
Subs: caballero, Drinkwater, Morata, Willian, Cahill, Emerson Ampadu
WBA: Foster, Gibbs, Evans, Rondon, Philips, Brunt, Sturridge, Barry, Krychowrak, Dawson, Hegan
Subs: Myhill, Nyon, Yacob, McClean, Burke, Rodriguez, McAuley
Referee: Lee Mason